Many weeks have passed since I posted the last entry. Many more have been written, and I am currently editing them to publish afterwards. In the beginning of each cruise, before I start lecturing, it's very important for me to figure out what kind of audience I am going to have this time. What topics interest them most, what kind of knowledge of Russia they have, what is their perception of my country, what have they read, and seen, and experienced. The lectures are never exactly the same. The topics are formulated as generalizations, so I can 'model' the course applying the method which I call 'deer herder's method'. What is it like? It's not a deer herder who herds deer, it's the other way around. He only follows them when they exhaust the food in a particular location. This is similar to the way I follow my listeners, given the acute shortage of time.
Your comments are always most precious for me as feed-back. I was informed by Lena (our cruise manager) about the feeling of some of my listeners (I guess a young couple from Jamaica) about my lack of patriotism and sharing things that one probably shouldn't share with aliens. Specifically, she referred to my statement that Russians in general somewhat dislike the Muscovites and consider the Petersburgers to be somewhat arrogant and pretentious. Frankly, I thought those were quite innocent facetious remarks. Sorry, it I have offended someone's sensibilities. On the other hand, the people didn't talk to me, I can only guess how exactly they feel. Reproduced by somebody else, the thoughts are often being somewhat distorted, I know that by my own experience.
However, I'm not going to cede my freedom of opinion easily since I am not a politician, an ideologist, a propagandist but try to be a balanced scholar and a popularizer of history. So do not expect from me a Soviet-style (Sovietesque) propaganda for tourists. I respect my audience and their ability to accept honest analysis.
And it is actually a very thorny ideological problem how to construct a new image of Modern Russia, a positive image to form the amalgam of loyalties cementing the Russian society, to teach the young generation to be proud of the country and their forebears, to show foreign people that Russia is no an evil empire but a reliable partner in international affairs with the best of intentions.
“Patriotism means unqualified and unwavering love for the nation, which implies not uncritical eagerness to serve, not support for unjust claims, but frank assessment of its vices and sins, and penitence for them.” - Solzhenitsyn's definition of patriotism has become a guide-line for many other Russian intellectuals. Their patriotism is moderate and self-critical, not blind. But it's not easy for the majority of my compatriots to understand and accept. In Soviet times Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov were condemned as traitors, or renegades. Now their role as conscience of the nation is unquestionable. I can add a statement of late Dmitry Lichachev, a reknowned academic, an expert in ancient Russian literature and Russian culture, a former gulag prisoner, the one who called Boris Yeltsyn and finally persuaded the president to attend the funeral of Nicholas II while other politicians, and even the patriarch, refrained from coming to Peter and Paul Cathedral for the ceremony. So Lichachev said that 'Russians are really devoid of the imperfection of self-glorification or self-praise. The strength of self-condemnation is above all strength. It shows the the society is still strong enough'. By the way, the most outspoken critic of the foibles of our system and society today is the President.
In the 1830s, the chief of the Secret Police, count A. Benkendorff formulated the guiding principle for historians: 'Russia's past was wonderful, her present magnificent, and as to her future, it is beyond the grasp of the most daring imagination. This is the point of view from which Russian history must be written.' From that perspective, which is quite widespread today, those who criticize anything here simply 'rock the boat', destabilize the situation in the country. Resorting to medical analogies, this is like enduring pain, pretending that all is well, declining treatment. Ultimately it all may end up in a catastrophe.
In the whole tradition of Russian political and historical thought criticism predominates. In one of the previous entries (on Russia as a conundrum) I told about Tyutchev and the story of his quotation on the billboard removed by the order of Moscow municipal authorities. Another renowned thinker of 1830s, A. Chaadayev, in his Philosophical Letters wrote that Russia doesn't belong to the European family of nations. Her mission in the world's history is to reveal the global experience of catastrophes to the rest of the world. The author was sent to a mental asylum after the writings were published.
As for me, if it comes to taking sides, I am, or course, with Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov, Likhachev, and other passionate Russian patriots who condemned primeval clannish loyalty and wished their fellow countrymen grow more mature, realizing that patriotism does not necessarily imply tribal defensiveness toward outsiders but honest analysis of everything.
I certainly try to analyze various phenomena being balanced. For instance, one cruise ago I was beleaguered with questions about independence of the Russian judiciary, the cases having deep resonance, those of Khodorkovsly and Magnitsky in particular. Yes, there are many shameful things about all that. But there are other things to be put on another scale. For example, that, statistically, over 90 % of the cases of Russian citizens against taxation agencies are won by the citizens. Or in the Constitutional Court 80% of the cases of citizens vs the state are ended with the victory of the citizens. Not 1 or 2 %, but 80 % ! It indicates that legal system nevertheless works despite the shortcomings.
As the old Russian saying goes, the truth has seven sides. And I try to expose as many of them as possible to the best of my resources.
P.S. I would recommend you to remember that criticism of various things about Russia is believed to be a prerogative of the Russians. If a foreigner attempts to speak critically of anything Russian, most Russians, be they dissidents or not, will quickly turn against him, even if they say the same things themselves. Hope you've got the point.
- Current Location:St. Petersburg, onboard m.s. River Victoria